St. Louis Cardinals: Celebrating Lou Brock’s 79th birthday
Arguably the greatest left fielder in St. Louis Cardinals history, Lou Brock turns 79 today. While he wasn’t a Cardinal lifer, he was still adored by fans for his blazing speed and contagious enthusiasm for the game.
Lou Brock made his debut for the cross town rival Chicago Cubs in 1961, though he just played four games. In his first full season the next year, Brock hit an underwhelming .263, but showed that the sprouts of his game changing speed was growing with 19 steals. He brought that up to 24 in 1963, but regressed as a hitter to a .258 mark.
Through 52 games in 1964, Brock was hitting just .251, and the Cubs gave up on him. Cubs general manager Bob Kennedy traded Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 15, 1964 for starting pitcher Ernie Broglio, outfielder Doug Clemens and relief pitcher Bobby Shantz. Broglio finished with a negative WAR in Chicago, Clemens hit just .238 in just over a season with the Cubs, and Shantz was 38 and regressed dramatically with the Cubs, retiring just two seasons later.
Brock, on the other hand, was a gold mine for the Cardinals. He hit .348 and had 33 steals in 103 appearances for the Cardinals following the trade, and kept his momentum going for years. The Cardinals also won the World Series that season, and Brock bat .300 in 30 plate apperances in the 1964 World Series.
His batting average dropped to .285 in 1965, but unlike the Cubs, the Cardinals let Brock utilize all of his talents. They set Brock free on the base paths, and he had more steal attempts in 1965 then in his entire Cubs tenure, and finished the season with a remarkable 66 steals. But that was just the beginning.
Brock followed up his impressive 66 steals with a staggering 74 base swipes in 1966. His batting average was holding steady in the low-mid .280’s, and did so until 1969. 74 steals was also his second highest total of his career, but he recorded at least 50 steals every season from this point on, until he was 38.
As a hitter, Brock finally put it together in 1967. While he wasn’t a bad hitter, he became a great one after springing off of this season. He bumped his average up 14 points to .299, which resulted in him scoring 113 runs that year for St. Louis. This spelled great things for the Cardinals, and the 1967 season ended in Brock’s second and final ring.
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While he hit a bump in the road in 1968 and lost in his final World Series, he proved that his hitting display in 1967 was no anomaly the next season. His home run numbers dropped to 12 from the 21 he had in 1967, Brock slashed .298/.349/.434 and picked up 97 runs. This isn’t Hall-of-Fame worthy, it was the catalyst for a stretch that is cemented in history books. Brock would hit over .300 for seven of his final ten seasons, but the story was in Brock’s electric feet.
He bumped his steal total up to 64 in 1971 while scoring 126 runs, and was able to raise it again to 70 in 1972. Brock was priming to do something huge, but his 1973 season was beyond what anyone expected.
He set the record for most stolen bases in a season with 118, and only got caught 30 times for a 79.7% success rate. At that volume, it was unheard of, and the record would stand for almost a decade until legendary speedster Ricky Henderson set the current record in 1982. On top of that, Brock hit .306, and scored 105 runs, completing one of the greatest individual seasons ever.
Brock finished his illustrious 19 year career with the most stolen bases in MLB history by over 40 swipes, and remains second behind Henderson to this day. While Cincinnati Red speedster Billy Hamilton is closing in on Brock’s 934 career steals, he will always remain the first player to reach 900 steals in a career.
Lou Brock’s legacy was more then that. In 1979, Brock’s final season, a New York Daily News reporter named Phil Pepe had this to say about Brock:
"“The numbers can hardly tell the full story of Louis Clark Brock. They cannot tell you of the enthusiasm he possessed, the zest for the game, the excitement he generated, the joy of watching him. If you have not seen him play, you have missed one of the great joys of sport. ”"
Beyond the championships and steal records, Lou Brock is a St. Louis Cardinals legend because he loved the game, and that love helped mold The Cardinal Way for many generations to come.
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Help us at Redbird Rants celebrate the birthday and life of Lou Brock. Do you have any moments that you remember of Brock? Is there anything else about him that should be recognized by Cardinal fans? Leave your thoughts and well wishes in the comments below.